For most of this decade, the Seattle Seahawks have consistently been at or near the top of their division. However, the Seattle team that is heading into the Metrodome Sunday is an organization that has fallen on hard times and is looking to rebuild – a process that is coming along slowly.
Finishing 4-12 in 2008, the Seahawks have yet to win back-to-back games this year, have lost all four of their road games by 11 points or more and, of their three wins on the season, two of them have been against St. Louis and Detroit – two teams that have combined for two wins, with one of those coming when they played each other. Seattle is a team going nowhere fast, which is bad news for 11-year veteran Matt Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck was once viewed as one of the top quarterbacks in the league, but attrition to his offensive line, the lack of a power running game and injuries have severely limited the things he has been able to do the last couple of years. He's missed two games this season and, when he has played, he's been more of a game manager than a game-changer. He has completed 150 of 255 (just 58.8 percent) passes for 1,622 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. His forte is reading defenses and getting rid of the ball quickly. He accomplishes that with three- and five-step drops and throws on time. Look for the Vikings to bring quick-hitting blitzes to add the pressure and force Hasselbeck to get the ball out of his hand quicker than he wants to. If they can, it could be a long day for the Bald Bomber.
The Seahawks have struggled in the running game since the decline of Shaun Alexander as one of the game's top workhorse running backs. They have tried guys like Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett and Edgerrin James. None of those players, however, will be on the field Sunday. Duckett wasn't re-signed following last season, James was cut last month after averaging just 2.7 yards on 46 carries, and Jones suffered a chest injury last week that will have him sidelined. As a result, second-year man Justin Forsett will get his first NFL start. In limited action, he has gained 246 yards on 37 carries – an impressive 6.6-yard average – and shown aggressiveness and burst into and out of the hole. He has fresh legs and will test the Vikings defense. However, he has never been asked to be a 20-carry-a-game back and conditioning may come into play. Depth is extremely thin with second-year undrafted free agent Louis Rankin as the only other halfback on the roster. The Seahawks have two fullbacks that see plenty of action – Justin Griffith and Owen Schmitt – but neither of them has a carry through nine games, so unless Forsett gets banged up, don't expect to see much offense from the fullback position.
For all their problems, the Seahawks have a deep and talented receiver corps. They've invested a lot to get it, giving up a first-round draft pick to acquire Deion Branch, giving up a third-rounder to sign former Viking Nate Burleson to a poison-pill contract and backing up the Brinks truck to outbid the Vikings for the services of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency. Houshmandzadeh leads the team with 50 receptions for 582 yards, but Burleson isn't far behind with 45 catches for 562 yards. Branch has never panned out as the deep threat he was acquired to be. He's averaging just 9.3 yards on his 22 receptions with a season-long catch of just 23 yards. The Seahawks have some depth with fourth-year man Ben Obamanu, who saw significant playing time last year when the Seahawks were decimated by injuries at the position, and rookie Deon Butler.
Tight end is also a strength with 2008 first-round pick and Hutchinson, Minn. native John Carlson. He led the Seahawks in receptions, yards and touchdowns last year and is among the team leaders this year with 34 catches for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Considering how teams have attacked the Vikings with their tight ends this year, expect Carlson to be an important part of the offensive game plan Sunday. Veteran John Owens will also see action, but his role is almost exclusively as a blocker – he has just two catches through nine games.
If one needs to chart the struggles of the Seahawks the last few years, it has all started up front. The organization never adequately replaced Steve Hutchinson at left guard and injuries appear to have caught up with potential Hall of Famer Walter Jones at left tackle. Not only has the line been weakened by having Jones on injured reserve, his spot at left tackle has seen four different starters – a recipe for disaster. Sean Locklear started the season there but was injured in the second game and only returned to action last week. In his absence, the Seahawks started Brandon Frye, who was injured in his third game as a starter and also placed on injured reserve. As critical as left tackle is to any offense, the Seahawks have had disastrous results. Left guard hasn't been any better, where an injury to fourth-year man Rob Sims forced the Seahawks to start backups Steve Vallos and Mansfield Wrotto in his absence. Like Locklear, Sims is back in the starting lineup, but has struggled to hold his position consistently. Former first-rounder Chris Spencer has missed two games as well, but he's been back since Week 3 and has been solid. The right side has been intact all season, with rookie Max Unger holding down right guard and fifth-year man Ray Willis at right tackle. The first time Sunday's starting five played together all season was last week, so this is a group that has the potential to be overwhelmed by the Wall of America at the point of attack.
Just as the offensive line has been a revolving door, the defensive front has been in flux as well. The group is led by 11-year vet Patrick Kerney, who, despite missing time due to injury, is tied for the team league in sacks with four. However, after spending most of the first half at right DE, he was moved to the left side two games ago and will line up opposite Phil Loadholt Sunday. In the middle, tackles Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole have been inconsistent at stopping the run. The Seahawks have allowed opponents to average 4.3 yards per rush and have allowed eight rushing TDs, which bodes well for Adrian Peterson Sunday. The Seahawks have decent depth, which has been needed. Backups Cory Redding, Craig Terrill and Darryl Tapp have all started at least one game this season. This is a group that can be overpowered by a strong running game, so look for the Vikings to try to tighten up the defense with a steady diet of Peterson in hopes of opening up the passing game.
Seattle's linebacker corps is without its top star, Lofa Tatupu, who was placed on injured reserve last month. His loss is huge and his replacement at middle linebacker – second-year undrafted free agent David Hawthorne – is a significant downgrade. Although he leads the team with three interceptions, he is often sucked in by play fakes and misdirection and allows too many plays in his zone. Look for Brett Favre to try to get him out of position and take advantage of the vacated space over the middle in the passing game. On the outside, first-round rookie Aaron Curry is a player to watch. Blessed with good size and speed, he is a potential star in the making. On the other side, Leroy Hill was so valued by the Seahawks that they slapped the franchise tag on him last spring – only to remove it when he signed a long-term deal. He missed five games due to injury, but has been back for the last three. When healthy, this is a strength of the defense, but not having Tatupu and Hill for significant periods of time have hurt the Seahawks defense immeasurably. The team has some depth, with third-year man Will Herring on the outside and eight-year man D.D. Lewis in the middle, but their value is more on special teams than being every-down players. Without Tatupu, a potential defensive strength has the look of a liability.
The secondary has been without its top star most of the season, but cornerback Marcus Trufant has played the last two games and is expected to be ready to go Sunday. The Seahawks have mixed and matched their starting corners in his absence. Third-year man Josh Wilson, fourth-year corner Kelly Jennings and nine-year vet Ken Lucas have all started at both left and right corner during the season. With Trufant back, the group was as deep as it had been all year, but Wilson is doubtful for Sunday's game due to injury, which will likely take away some of the depth they need to cover the Vikings receiver corps. At safety, the tandem of Deon Grant and Jordan Babineaux have been the most consistent players on the defensive roster. They have started all nine games – a rarity for this team – and, as 10- and six-year veterans, respectively, they patrol the deep middle with experience and ferocity. Former Patriot Lawyer Milloy also sees time as a backup, but in his 14th season, there are some questions how much he has left in the tank.
The Seahawks weren't a team that many projected to be a Super Bowl contender in the NFC before the season started, but the rash of injuries and revolving door of starting positions has, for a second straight year, appeared to derail the team early and, despite being midseason, they have all the looks of a team playing out the string. They are about as healthy as they've been all season, but this has all the makings of adding another win to the Vikings total and adding another loss to Seattle's loss column.
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